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Sudan is starving, but the world isn’t helping

UN officials say millions of people in Sudan are on the brink of starvation, but there is no money for humanitarian aid.

Tomorrow, ministers will gather in Paris to talk about the funding crisis for Sudan, but aid organisations fear it is already too late.

It comes exactly a year since a power struggle between two generals plunged the northeast African country into deadly conflict, forcing more than eight million people from their homes, spilling into neighbouring countries and raising fears of wider regional instability.

Thousands of civilians have been killed in clashes between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which grew out of the notorious Arab Janjaweed militia.

Both sides have been accused of carrying out atrocities.

Reports of ethnic cleansing have once again emerged in the western Darfur region.

But with little international attention focused on Sudan, the UN and other aid groups have struggled to raise the funds for their humanitarian operations to support the 25 million people in need.

Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan

The UN’s $2.7 billion (€2.5 billion) humanitarian appeal for inside Sudan hovers at just above 5% funded.

Another $1.4 billion (€1.3 billion) appeal to help those displaced in the region has received only $91 million or 7% funding.

Aid organisations are hoping that tomorrow’s conference will sound the alarm about Sudan and encourage donors to pay up.

It cannot be another meeting of “empty and hollow promises,” Sofía Sprechmann Sineiro, Secretary General at CARE International told reporters ahead of the conference.

“We need global leaders in Paris to take this opportunity to come up with immediate, concrete solutions to the human tragedy that continues to unfold and is spilling over across the region,” she said.

The European Union, Germany, France and the United States are expected to announce fresh funding pledges in Paris.

But for the estimated five million people, most of them children, already facing famine, it could be too late.

“We know there are about 3.7 million children that are potentially suffering from severe acute malnutrition,” Dominic MacSorley, Humanitarian Ambassador at Concern Worldwide, who has just returned from seven months in Sudan, told RTÉ News.

“We also know that about 230,000 of those, including 7000 mothers will die if there is not a massive increase in assistance where we can reach these people in time,” he said.

But promises of humanitarian aid need to be accompanied with substantial diplomatic effort, Mr MacSorley added.

“There has to be a much more robust engagement at a political level,” he said.

He welcomed the recent appointment of the US special envoy Tom Perriello to Sudan but said that UN member states needed step up their efforts.

The UN Security Council demands an immediate ceasefire in Sudan in March (File image)

Last month, the UN Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire in a resolution voted for by 14 of the 15-member body.

Russia abstained.

The resolution was ignored by the warring generals – Sudanese army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagalo who is now head of the RSF.

International pressure did appear to force the opening up of aid routes via neighbouring Chad, Egypt and South Sudan.

But maritime access to the region through the Red Sea has meanwhile been hampered by the recent spate of attacks on ships by Houthi rebels.

“That has meant that aid shipments coming to Sudan are taking a much, much longer route,” Mr MacSorley said.

“It has increased costs massively and adds delays, so we’ve been bringing in medicines and food from places like the Netherlands, that instead of taking two months, is now taking six months,” he added.

Allowing distribution of aid inside the country requires sustained pressure from the outside world on the warring parties, according to Amgad Fareid, executive director of Fikra, a Sudanese think tank.

“The humanitarian issue needs to be de-politicised,” he said.

“We need to stop talking about it and stop allowing the two parties to take humanitarian aid hostage,” he added.

Local aid groups also need to be supported, according to Fatima Ahmed from Zenab for Women in Development, a Sudanese NGO.

“People need basic types of food—lentils, sorghum—which are available in the country. We should focus on supporting and empowering local responders so they can scale-up what they’re doing,” she said.

Beyond the funding crisis, attempts at a political solution to the conflict have stalled.

A child is loaded into a truck taking people fleeing Sudan’s war (File image)

US and Saudi Arabia brokered talks between envoys of the Sudanese Army and the RSF in Jeddah last year yielded nothing.

Diplomats hope this conference will galvanise international pressure on the generals to re-start peace talks.

But a year into the war, the RSF has made significant territorial gains, now controlling much of the Darfur region as well as parts of the capital Khartoum.

The RSF is reported to be funded and armed by the wealthy Gulf state, United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has denied the claim.

The Sudanese government has indicated it will refuse to engage in peace talks, if UAE is also invited.

Meanwhile reports have emerged that Iran is supplying the Sudanese army with drones.

On Thursday, the US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the US had had “numerous discussions” with countries in the region to press Iran not to get involved in the Sudanese conflict.

Sudan is just one of the many conflict-driven humanitarian crises that have proliferated in recent years.

Famine looms in several parts of the world including Gaza, Haiti, Yemen and Sudan at a time when financial support for humanitarian causes is diminishing.

Aid organisations lament the inability of the international community to deal with several crises simultaneously.

“I do not believe that there isn’t enough funding available to support Sudan and every other crisis that needs support,” Mr MacSorley said.

“The money is there,” he said, “and in this day and age, it is unconscionable that children are starving to death because of an absence of funding while they wait and hope for peace.”

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